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Through countless moves in the foster care system, Stallbaumer stayed focused on her nursing dream

Savannah Stallbaumer posing in front of a sign on the Washburn Tech campus

(Savannah Stallbaumer, c ’22, earned a practical nursing certificate from Washburn Tech and is working in the field as she prepares to study to become a registered nurse. Growing up, she stayed in more than 17 homes during nine years in the foster care system before becoming an Ichabod. Photo by Jeremy Wangler)

From The Ichabod - Spring 2023
By Angela Lutz

As a child, Savannah Stallbaumer never knew where she would be living from month to month.

After entering foster care at the age of 9, she stayed in more than 17 homes in Kansas in the next nine years. She switched schools a lot too – she attended one school for only two weeks, and her teacher thought she was joking when she said it was her last day. In many cases, this left Stallbaumer, c ,22, to figure things out on her own.

“There were a lot of holes in my education,” she said. “I definitely tried to pay attention in school, but it was not always the easiest. I jumped around from school to school and missed out on key pieces of information, but I still had the same assignments as everyone else. This made it hard to keep up.”

The instability and lack of routine in her home life also led to social and emotional challenges. She found it difficult to keep in contact with friends she’d made after a move, and each new foster home had different rules. Dealing with upheaval and abuse at home sometimes made it difficult to focus at school. She recalled being at a social worker’s office one night until midnight after a tense situation with her biological mother and failing to complete her math homework.

“My teacher pulled me aside and said, ‘What’s going on? You are the only student I can count on turning in their homework in this class,’” Stallbaumer said. “I don’t know if he knew I was a foster kid, but I told him what happened and he told me to tell him if that happened again. My teachers could usually tell if something was wrong, and they were pretty receptive and helpful.”

Despite these obstacles, Stallbaumer was a bright and dedicated student. Even as she navigated each move, she was committed to learning, particularly after receiving a diagnosis and treatment for dyslexia in fourth grade. She knew she could excel academically, and she wanted to work as a pediatric oncology nurse like one of her older sisters. She also gained confidence through playing sports.

“When I lived at home with my mom, I never thought I would get the opportunity to go to college or play sports,” Stallbaumer said. “I was one of the caregivers for my younger siblings, so I couldn’t stay after school for activities. I think doing extracurriculars helped my confidence a lot – it was encouraging to pursue opportunities and excel at them. My social workers were also very encouraging when they saw my report cards.”

After graduating high school, Stallbaumer wanted to fast track her path to a career in nursing, so she enrolled in the practical nursing program at Washburn University Institute of Technology after learning about it from her boyfriend’s grandmother. Stallbaumer enjoyed the small class sizes at Washburn and the relationships she built with her teachers and classmates, which felt similar to her rural high school. In just nine months, she was able to gain the necessary education and certification to become a licensed practical nurse, and her experiences will help her as she works toward becoming a registered nurse.

“The instructors were knowledgeable and you could ask them anything and they would have an answer. They were very experienced nurses,” Stallbaumer said. “When I shadowed my older sister at work in high school, I loved how busy the nurses were. They weren’t just sitting at a desk. Treating cancer is something I’ve always wanted to do, and this will help me do that.”

Savannah Stallbaumer posing outside Washburn TechDuring her time at Washburn Tech, Stallbaumer excelled academically and impressed Kathryn Stroebele, Washburn Tech student transition director, with her hard work and tenacity. Stroebele encouraged Stallbaumer to give an inspiring speech at her Washburn Tech graduation ceremony, which Stallbaumer had done previously as valedictorian of Wetmore (Kansas) High School.

“She is very positive and friendly, and from what I’ve seen she’s developed a lot of compassion for people who are going through troublesome health situations,” Stroebele said. “I’m sure a lot of that goes back to her own upbringing. She realizes that life is not fair, and we don’t all come into the world with equal chances. She is a special young lady – if only everyone had that kind of attitude and persistence.”

After graduation, Stallbaumer started working at the Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka, where she enjoys getting to know the residents and has helped alleviate staffing shortages at the facility. Now that she has struck out on her own, she is excited to build her future. She feels ready to go wherever her career takes her – and she will continue to overcome her challenges and make the most of every opportunity that comes her way.

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

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